A bevy of Hollywood’s aging elite star in Robert Redford’s latest
Published: April 17, 2013
The Company You Keep
Directed by Robert Redford
Opening at the Charles Theatre April 19
Recently, Hollywood’s AARP set has churned out a bumper crop of movies about baby boomers getting along just fine. Last year’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel saw 78-year-old Maggie Smith, 79-year-old Dame Judi Dench, and a slew of others mixing it up in a retirement home in India. Dustin Hoffman, 75, made his directorial debut with Quartet—also set in a home. The Expendables 2 rounded up 66-year-old Sly Stallone, 73-year-old Chuck Norris, and 65-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger for a blow-’em-up flick good for grandpa and the kids alike. Go further back, you’ll find plenty: The Bucket List, Something’s Gotta Give, Space Cowboys, RED, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, etc.
Robert Redford, 76, contributes his own we’ve-still-got-it movie to the pile with The Company You Keep, in which he stars, directs, and jogs. Though it’s less overtly self-conscious about being an old-person’s movie, a full complement of wizened familiar faces turns out for the movie. Susan Sarandon gets arrested. Julie Christie smuggles large shipments of pot into the country. Nick Nolte wheezes. Sam Elliott doesn’t do much, but looks as good as ever.
Redford, really, doesn’t look that bad either. He plays Jim Grant, an Albany public-interest lawyer whose wife recently passed away, leaving him the doting single parent to a precocious 11-year-old daughter (Jackie Evancho). Despite that noticeably weird age gap, he’s a great dad—makes her a bagged lunch in the mornings, asks her about her day, watches her get in to school safely. We soon discover, however, that Jim Grant is a front.
Grant’s cover begins to unravel when the FBI captures long-standing fugitive Sharon Solarz (Sarandon), a former member of the Weather Underground, the radical anti-war group of 1970s fame; Solarz is one of a handful of members wanted for killing a security guard in a Michigan bank robbery in the ’70s. An upstart local reporter for the Albany Sun-Times, Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf), attempting to sniff out a bigger story for his editor (Stanley Tucci), links Solarz and Grant, and discovers that Jim Grant is really Nick Sloan, accused of the same crime as Solarz. The story—national news—blows up instantly, but Grant hightails it out of Albany, daughter in tow, just in time to evade the FBI.
In short order, he passes his daughter off to his brother (Chris Cooper) and begins a trek to the Midwest. He reconnects with other Weather Underground-ers flying under the radar. They reflect and reminisce. Grant/Sloan has an old flame of some import, Mimi (Julie Christie); he’s trying to contact her, though we’re not sure why.
Along his mission, Sloan dodges the seemingly not-so-crack team of FBI agents hunting him down. He mostly outwits them (not with anything super-fancy), but occasionally physicality comes into play. Grant will have to run or jump a fence. He can do it, all right. He’s just a little creaky when he does.
Meanwhile, Ben Shepard snoops into Sloan’s past, puzzling out his next steps. Shepard’s subplot spawns another subplot, and The Company You Keep starts feeling overcrowded and drawn out.
Shia LaBeouf’s character is the quintessential Shia LaBeouf role—think Indiana Jones 4—played exactly as you expect: cavalier, egotistical, wheedling young reporter. He’s more or less the token whippersnapper. When he breaks the story about Jim Grant, Shepard rockets to press stardom (they keep mentioning his name in TV newscasts; a journalist from Reuters recognizes him) and he basks in the attention. His dogged pursuit of Jim Grant’s underlying story doesn’t necessarily ring false, but the special allowances made for Shepard given that he’s one of a shrinking number of reporters at the local newspaper are too much to swallow. He doesn’t have any other assignments on his plate; he interacts with all of two colleagues at the office; he eschews social media. Shepard’s story line is a flat portrayal of a young journalist in the 21st century. It’s out of touch, sure to lose younger viewers’ interest. One wonders if that’s a result of old-person’s-movie thing.
The other weak joint in the movie is the too-polished plot. Characters in the movie acknowledge that it’s unusual that Robert Redford has a preteen daughter, but it’s excused by the deceased-wife device. (One character says something like, “You marry a younger woman, you don’t expect her to die on you.”) That circumstance, too, conveniently makes way for Sloan’s liaison with Mimi. Every loose end is tied, every quirky plot point noted in the film. Even Shepard’s aversion to Twitter is mentioned as being odd.
As a result, The Company You Keep feels hokey and overly contrived—the surprises fail to surprise, and too much sentiment creeps in. Older fans of still-handsome Robert Redford may thrill to the scene where he is semi-shirtless, but for the rest, your time might be better spent taking a snooze.
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